South Iceland and Thorsmork
Hot springs, waterfalls, glaciers and glacial rivers
Reykjavik and surroundings
Ellidaar salmon river runs through Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland, and the bridge over Ellidaar river stands on Leitahraun lava field, which was formed in a shield volcano eruption some 5000 years ago. It is the only lava field that has reached the area where Reykjavik is now. Just outside Reykjavik you see Raudholar Pseudo-craters (rootless vents) which were formed when the lava, that formed Leitahraun lava field, flowed into a shallow lake.
East of Reykjavik lies a mountain named Hengill. Hengill is made from a Palagomite tuff and its highest point is around 800 meters over sea level. Hengill is a central volcano and under it is a giant magma chamber.
Hengill and Geothermal area
The Hengill area is one of the largest and powerful geothermal areas in the world. The surface of the area consists of several thousand hot springs and two geothermal plants get their energy from the power generating from the magma chamber. North of Hengill is Nesjavallavirkjun geothermal plant and to the south is Hellisheidarvirkjun geothermal plant.
Hellisheidarvirkjun geothermal plant generates electricity produced by geothermal steam that vents from the ground. The plant is located close to highway nr.1. The plant started in 2006 but the productivity of the plant has risen year to year ever since and generates now over 300 megawatts of electricity. We will stop by the plant and take a tour around it.
Around the town of Hveragerdi are a number of interesting hot springs, both mud pools, hot water springs, steaming vents and geysers.There are multitude of green houses located in the town as well.
Olfusa river, has the most volume of water per second of all rivers in Iceland, 420 cubic meters per second. The bridge over the river was built in 1891 and still functions as such even though the car has taken over the duty of transportation from the icelandic pony. The town of Selfoss rose around the bridge after its construction. Selfoss is now the largest town in southern Iceland with around 6500 inhabitants.
The town of Selfoss sits on top of a lava field that flowed from the highlands about 8700 years ago. The lava field of Thjorsarhraun covers over 1000 sq. kilometers and 26 cubic kilometer. Thjorsarhraun lava field is one of the largest lava fields that have flowed in Iceland since the last ice age.
Seljalandsfoss waterfall cascades from ancient sea cliffs over 60 meters down to a shallow pool. It is possible to take a walk behind the waterfall and the scenery there is really beautiful.
East of Seljalandsfoss waterfall lies a fertile countryside and north of there rises the beautiful Eyjafjallajokull glacier, 1666 meter over sea level. This glacier is the sixth largest in Iceland. A magma chamber is located under the mountain which the glacier lies on top of and there have been 2 major eruptions there in historic time, in the year 1612 and again from 1821-1823.
To the south, out at sea,lie the islands of Vestmannaeyjar, that where formed in a sub-aquatic eruption. The last eruption there was in 1973 but 10 years earlier the island Surtsey was formed in a sub-aquatic eruption. That island is the southernmost point of Iceland.
At Skogar is Skogarfoss waterfall. Skogarfoss waterfall cascades around 65 meters down from ancient sea cliffs and is by many considered to be one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland. At Skogar we will find two museums, a communal museum established 1949 and a transportation museum. Interesting museums to visit.
Myrdalsjokull glacier is the fourth largest glacier in Iceland. Under it lies the central volcanic system of Katla, which has erupted upon several dates in historic time, last October 12th 1918. Another eruption in Katla is imminent in the near future. Southwest of Myrdalsjokull glacier lies Solheimajokull glacier. Solheimajokull is a creeping glacier and from it flows the river Jokulsa down to the lowland. We will hike up to the glacier and upon it and see how the glacier has carved out the surrounding nature.
Thorsmork is a valley surrounded by glaciers and central volcanoes. In the north is Tindfjallajokull glacier, in the east is Myrdalsjokull glacier and in the south is Eyjafjallajokull glacier. To get there, we will have to cross several rivers and streams but when in Thorsmork, you'll see a valley of extraordinary beauty with lush vegetation.
Dyrholaey and Vik in Myrdalur
Dyrholaey is a small but majestic peninsula and it is the southernmost point of the mainland. It is 120 metres high and it is home to many seabird species. Dyrholaey was formed in a sub-aquatic eruption about 100 thousand years ago. The translation of Dyrholaey's name into English would be something like "Doorway Island" and that name refers to the hole, or the doorway, which the ocean has carved into the cliff. The ocean now flows through that doorway. Dyrholaey was put on a national conservation list in 1978. A lighthouse was built on this peninsula in 1910 and then reconstructed in 1927. A road leads up to the top of the peninsula and from here you will have a fantastic view in all directions.
Near the village of Vik in Myrdalur is a sandy beach where you can find some fantastic sights, such as aqua tubes and caves and also picturesque columnar basalt formations. The beach is eroding and the ocean is always creeping closer to the houses of the village. From the beach there is a view to the magnificent peaks of Reynisdrangar which is a series of black basalt columns in the sea. The beach is considered by many to be one of the more beautiful beaches in Iceland.
Glaciers and volcanoes
The glacier of Myrdalsjokull is the fourth largest glacier in Iceland. The central volcanic system of Katla lies beneath it and has erupted on several dates during historic times, most recently on October 12th 1918. Another eruption in Katla is imminent in the near future. The crater of Katla is about 100 sq. kilometres in size and it lies beneath 700 metres of ice. The Katla central volcanic system has erupted around 20 times since Iceland was settled. During the eruptions huge glacier runs, or floods, follow and large amounts of ice, ashes and sand flows down to the lowlands. Most of the Myrdalssandur sand plains were formed by the material that flooded down in the glacier runs.
Myrdalssandur is an area of black lava sand plains covering 700 square kilometres which were formed by the sand and ashes from the glacial rivers, and the frequent glacier runs from Katla volcano. East of Myrdalssandur we will find the lava field of Eldgjarhraun which was formed by the largest lava flow by volume, from a single eruption, during historic times. This single massive eruption took place in the year 934, in the volcanic rift of Eldgja which is almost 60 kilometres long. The lava field's size is somewhere between 18-19 cubic kilometres.
East of Eldgjahraun lava field, and east of the glacier river of Kudafljot, we will find the historic lava field of Skaftareldahraun which was formed by a huge eruption in the Lakagigar crater row. The eruption began on June 8th 1783 and lasted until February 7th 1784. Many farms and their farmlands were destroyed in the aftermath of the eruption because of ash-fall and most of the livestock subsequently died. The whole lava field, 656 sq. kilometres and about 15 cubic kilometres, remains there as a reminder of this huge eruption. The Lakagigar eruption is the biggest disaster on earth and the only event that has killed more than 1 million people, but around 2 million people died all over the northern hemisphere because of this eruption. For example, the eruption had a huge impact in Alaska and Japan. Also, the eruption was the main reason for the French revolution 1789-1799.
The river gorge of Fjadrargljufur is beside the road to Lakagigar crater row. The river Fjadra cascades down the Cliffside dropping into the spectacular gorge beneath. It is fun to hike and trek in the gorge. The hills of Landbrotsholar around Kirkjubaejarklaustur village are the largest pseudo-crater areas in the world with around 20 pseudo-crates. Pseudo-craters are formed when molten lava flows over a bog, a lake or even a river. The precipitation seeps into the molten material, which boils up and explodes. The lava forms into tephra materials which then pile up in heaps. The hills of Landbrotsholar are a part of the great Eldgjarhraun lava field mentioned earlier.
Rock formations and lava fields
Just east of Kirkjubaejarklaustur we will find the black basalt columnar floor formation of Kirkjugolf which covers around 80 square metres. The translation of the name is "church floor" although a church has never stood there. However, the basalt columnar floor looks as though it has been laid by human beings which this is the reason for the name of this natural wonder. Dverghamrar are a peculiar columnar basalt rock formation that was created by the surging sea when the sea level was much higher, during the last ice age. Dverghamrar columnar basalt formations are now on a conservation list. Hverfisfljot, a glacial river divides two lava fields: Skaftareldahraun and Nupahraun, which were formed in a massive eruption around 5000 years ago. The crater row which formed during the eruption is sometimes named Raudholar or "Red Hills", and it is now partly hidden under the glacial tongue of the glacier Sidujokull which is part of the Vatnajokull ice cap. However, that glacial tongue had not formed when the eruption occurred. This crater row is well over 30 kilometres long. The lava field of Nupahraun covers an area of 230 sq. kilometres and the volume is 6-7 cubic kilometres which makes Nupahraun the 13th largest lava field in Iceland. Lomagnupur is a 767 metres high mountain on the sand plains of Skeidararsandur. We will take a closer look at an avalanche of rocks which fell from the mountain in July 1789 when, during that summer, a multitude of tremors quaked through the southern part of Iceland.
East of the mountain there are the two major rivers of Nupsvotn and Gigjukvisl which cross the sand plains of Skeidararsandur. The water which once flowed through the riverbed of the river Skeidara now flows into the riverbed of Gigjukvisl. The bridge over Gigjukvisl was swept away by the bulging river in a massive glacier run in 1996 after an eruption in Gjalp in Vatnajokull’s glacier ice cap. Skeidararsandur is an enormous sand plain which reaches from the glacier of Skeidararjokull to the sea. Skeidararsandur was formed, like other sand plains in this region, from glacier runs and it is the largest sand plain in the world covering 1300 km². Several eruptions under the glacier have caused glacier runs, the last one was in 1996, they originate in the central volcano system of Grimsvotn. The sand plain is quite rocky near the glacier, with massive boulders, but closer to the sea this transforms into gravel and mud. There is very little vegetation on Skeidararsandur plain, and the part which is closest to the sea is important to the seal population around the island. The seal mothers in this area use it as a nursing ground for their newborn pups. The sand plain is also the largest breeding ground of Great Skua in Iceland.